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Sub-Impreza Subaru looms

On the menu: The Justy is one of Subaru Australia's light-car options.

Subaru confirms that it may seek a Toyota Yaris-style B-segment light car

27 Nov 2008

SUBARU is thought to be pulling out all stops to fill a gaping hole in its international model line-up by developing a B-segment – or light-car – contender to slide beneath the C-segment Impreza small car range.

The Japanese company has not offered an in-house produced Toyota Yaris rival for the last two decades, electing instead to concentrated on either satisfying demand in Japan’s big-selling ‘Kei’ car (A-segment) city-car class, or producing larger all-wheel drive models from the Impreza up to the Forester, Liberty, Outback, Tribeca and, soon, the Exiga people-mover.

However, with the smallest of all car segments growing the most internationally as well as in Australia over the last two years, Subaru is now reviewing its light-car strategy.

“Certainly this segment of car is one that (Fuji Heavy Industries – parent company of Subaru in Japan) are looking at,” said Subaru Australian managing director Nick Senior yesterday.

“I was there three weeks ago and there has been no commitment on a B-segment car. But it is one of the items of discussion (we have) with FHI about, of a B-segment (vehicle) underneath the Impreza.”

Mr Senior admitted that the need to have its own vehicle in the Toyota Yaris class is crucial for Subaru’s survival in many of its key export markets, particularly in Europe over the next few years.

“Primarily because the European market is more and more demanding for something like that,” he said.

“Some of the European regulations are for fuel economy, and they are looking for more fuel-efficient cars… (So) there is consideration being given to a B-segment car.

2 center imageLeft: Subaru Justy.

“(Also) there are pressures for the environment from Europe, in terms of average CO2… and the growth markets around the world lately have been in smaller segments than we have seen – even in Australia, where the small car market is up, the light car market is up, and largely the rest of the market… has come down.

“So it’s changed circumstances that mean that we have to have a look at (a B-segment vehicle),” Mr Senior added.

Whether Subaru decides to leverage its burgeoning relationship with shareholder Toyota by developing its own version of a future Yaris, go it alone with an all-new car, or simply put its own badge on somebody else’s B-segment car as it has done in the past is still unknown, according to Mr Senior.

Since 2007, a version of the second-generation M300 Daihatsu Sirion sold here briefly in 2004/5 (before the brand was pulled from Australia by Toyota) is marketed in Europe as the Subaru Justy.

In fact, the Justy nameplate started life in 1984 as a proper Subaru light car with all-wheel drive (AWD) availability, until it was replaced by a rebadged second-generation Suzuki Swift from 1994.

In the past, Subaru Australia has said that it would probably not consider importing vehicles into Australia that did not conform to the brand’s DNA by featuring a boxer engine and all-wheel drive (AWD) technology.

However, with the global focus shifting to producing more sustainable vehicles, the likelihood of eventually bringing in a front-wheel drive ‘environmental’ Subaru is not out of the question, according to Mr Senior.

To meet emissions requirements alone in Europe, a B-segment Subaru vehicle of the future will probably have to lose as much weight as possible by forgoing AWD.

Nevertheless, asked whether Subaru is considering going down the same route as Suzuki has by developing an AWD B-segment vehicle as Suzuki has with the Swift-derived SX4 AWD, Mr Senior replied that it is far too early to comment.

He also put paid to any possible speculation that Subaru may consider marketing a Toyota iQ-style three-metre three-plus-one seater city-car.

“On a worldwide scale FHI is 19th or 20th in size of manufacturers with 600,000 vehicles a year, so we have to be careful with product portfolio that we produce cars for a global market, and that we are able to maximise the product portfolio,” Mr Senior explained.

“And while there are opportunities in Kei segment, ‘B’ segment and other segments, it is stretching investment and resources pretty thinly to look at every possible segment.

“There has been a huge research and development investment with Subaru over the last couple of years, which has seen firstly the Impreza and Forester, the Tribeca and Liberty/Outback and the Exiga they launched in the Japanese market, so it is very much looking for the right product portfolio.”

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